The Life and Legacy of Barrier Breaking Journalist Barbara Walters

Barbara Walters is a legendary American broadcast journalist, known for shattering glass ceilings and transforming the role of women in media. As the first woman co-anchor of a network evening news program and creator of “The View”, Walters has had an unparalleled impact on broadcast journalism over the past 50+ years. This article explores her remarkable life, pioneering career, notable interviews, groundbreaking achievements for women, and enduring legacy.

Early Life and Education

Born September 25, 1929 in Boston, Massachusetts, Barbara Jill Walters was the daughter of Dena (née Selett) and Louis Edward Walters. Her father opened the Latin Quarter nightclub in Boston and New York City, which featured popular entertainers. Walters’ childhood was privileged but not happy – her father was verbally abusive and a compulsive gambler.

In 1937, Walters’ father lost his nightclubs and the family moved to Miami Beach, Florida. She attended Ethical Culture Fieldston School and Birch Wathen Lenox School in New York City, graduating from Miami Beach High School in 1947.

Walters attended Sarah Lawrence College, graduating in 1953 with a bachelor’s degree in English. At Sarah Lawrence, she was influenced by a mentor who encouraged her theatrical abilities. This experience helped Walters develop the communication skills that formed the foundation of her broadcasting career.

Early Career in Television

After a brief stint as a secretary, Walters landed her first on-air job in 1956 at WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She moved to New York City in 1961 as a writer and segment producer for NBC’s “Today Show.”

Her breakthrough came in 1962 when she took over as regular “Today Girl” after the abrupt departure of predecessor Florence Henderson. As the show’s female presence, Walters conducted lighter interviews and weather updates.

In 1966, Walters became a co-host of the “Today Show,” working alongside Frank McGee. As the first female co-anchor of a news program, this was a groundbreaking achievement. When McGee passed away in 1974, Walters became the show’s sole host.

Becoming the “First Lady of Television News”

In 1976, Walters accepted a record $1 million contract with ABC News. She became the first female anchor of an evening news program when she co-anchored ABC Evening News with Harry Reasoner.

Table: Barbara Walters’ Achievements at ABC News

| Year | Achievement |
| 1976 | Co-anchored ABC Evening News with Harry Reasoner |
| 1976 | Became a correspondent for ABC News specials |
| 1979 | Co-hosted 20/20 with Hugh Downs |
| 1984 | Launched The View daytime talk show |
| 1997 | Left 20/20 to focus on The View |
| 2004 | Retired from 20/20 and ABC News |
| 2014 | Retired from The View and television |

Walters is credited with “humanizing” the news by blending traditional reporting with lighter features and celebrity interviews. Her distinctive interview style focused on developing an intimate rapport with subjects.

By the late 1970s, Walters had earned the nickname the “First Lady of Television News” for her prominence as a trailblazing female journalist. Between news anchoring and entertainment specials, she became one of TV’s most highly-paid stars.

Big Gets and Memorable Interviews

Over her decades-long career, Walters secured exclusive interviews with numerous high-profile figures from entertainment icons to world leaders. She had an innate ability to ask tough questions in a polite yet probing manner.

Some of Walters’ biggest “gets” and most memorable interviews include:

  • 1977: Joint interview with Egypt President Anwar Sadat and Israel Prime Minister Menachem Begin. This was the first time an Egyptian leader and Israeli leader formally met, paving the path for the Camp David Accords.
  • 1981: First joint interview with 24-year old Prince Charles and 20-year old Lady Diana after the announcement of their engagement. Walters’ interview was watched by over 100 million people worldwide.
  • 1993: Interview with Monica Lewinsky during the Bill Clinton impeachment scandal, in which Lewinsky revealed details of her affair with the President. This interview earned Walters an Emmy Award.
  • 1999: Interview with Vladimir Putin, then Prime Minister of Russia, in his first American television appearance.
  • 2001: Interview with President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush at the White House on 9/11.
  • 2014: Final joint interview with Betty White and Dick Van Dyke, Walters’ old friends and pioneers of television’s golden age.

Walters’ ability to secure these exclusive, newsworthy interviews with A-list newsmakers demonstrated her esteemed status in the world of journalism.

Groundbreaking Achievements for Women

As a female pioneer in the male-dominated field of broadcast news, Walters achieved many groundbreaking firsts for women in media, including:

  • Becoming the first female co-host of a network news program, the “Today Show” in 1966
  • Serving as the first female co-anchor of an evening news program on ABC in 1976
  • Receiving a record-breaking $1 million annual salary from ABC News in 1976
  • Co-anchoring the ABC newsmagazine 20/20 which reached over 12 million viewers per week during her tenure. This set a precedent for serious female journalists on primetime TV.
  • Creating and co-hosting “The View”, which won Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Talk Show

Table: Barbara Walters’ Accolades

| Year | Award |
| 1972, 1974 | Named to “10 Most Admired Women in America” Gallup poll |
| 1975 | Inducted into the Television Hall of Fame |
| 1988 | Awarded Lifetime Achievement Award from Women in Film |
| 2000 | Ranked #34 on Variety’s “50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time” |
| 2007 | Awarded Lifetime Achievement Award at News & Documentary Emmys|
| 2008 | Placed on Time 100 Most Influential People in the World |

Walters won numerous prestigious awards over the course of her lengthy career. But perhaps her greatest achievement was paving the way for future generations of women in broadcasting.

Memoir and Retirement

In 2008, Walters published a best-selling memoir titled Audition: A Memoir, highlighting her personal struggles and remarkable career.

Walters began to retreat from her exhausting work schedule in the early 2010s. She officially announced her retirement in May 2013 at age 84, though she continued occasional television appearances. Her final co-hosting duties on “The View” ended in 2014, along with a farewell primetime ABC special recognizing her esteemed career.

Walters now enjoys retirement away from the spotlight but close to her daughter Jacqueline and loved ones. She will forever be remembered as a true pioneer for women in the media.

Barbara Walters’ Enduring Legacy

With her trailblazing career spanning over 50 years in television, Barbara Walters left an indelible mark on broadcast journalism and paved the way for women in media today. Her enduring legacy can be summarized as follows:

  • Broke barriers for women: As the “first lady of television news,” Walters achieved historic firsts for women in prominent broadcasting roles from morning shows to evening anchor.
  • New style of TV news: Blended hard news and entertainment with serious interviews of world leaders and celebrities. Humanized news subjects.
  • Unique interview style: Intimate rapport with subjects from politicians to stars. Polite yet probing questions.
  • Media icon status: Became one of the most visible and highly-paid TV personalities, known globally by first name.
  • Inspired generations of journalists: Served as role model for aspiring female reporters. Trailblazing career opened doors for women in media.

Few individuals have revolutionized an entire profession as Barbara Walters did for broadcast journalism. Over five decades, she interviewed the world’s most influential people and embedded herself into the cultural zeitgeist. Walters’ determination to succeed in a male-dominated world made her a feminist icon. Her courage, charm, intelligence and warmth left an indelible impression on television and on the world at large.

Frequently Asked Questions About Barbara Walters

Barbara Walters’ groundbreaking career and impact on broadcast journalism often brings up many questions. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about this remarkable woman:

How did Barbara Walters get her start in television?

After working briefly as a secretary, Walters landed her first on-air job in 1956 at a local station in Pittsburgh. In 1961 she moved to New York as a writer for NBC’s Today Show before becoming the show’s regular “Today Girl.”

Why was Barbara Walters so influential?

As the first woman co-anchor of a network news program, Walters achieved many historic “firsts” for women in broadcasting. She interviewed major world figures and celebrities with a unique intimate style.

What was Barbara Walters’ breakthrough interview?

Walters’ 1977 joint interview with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was a major scoop, held after the two leaders met formally for the first time to discuss Middle East peace.

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How much did Walters earn at the peak of her career?

In 1976, she accepted a record-breaking $1 million annual contract from ABC News, making her the highest paid journalist in history at that time.

What is Barbara Walters best known for?

As a pioneer for women in media, Walters is best known for ending barriers by becoming the first female co-anchor of a network evening news program. She is also known for her interviews with influential world leaders and celebrities.

Why did Barbara Walters retire from television?

Walters retired from regular broadcasting in 2014 at age 84, after a legendary career spanning over 50 years. She retired to enjoy time away from an exhaustive work schedule and spend time with loved ones.

What is Barbara Walters doing now?

Now in her 90s, Walters enjoys a quiet retirement far from the media spotlight. She is said to enjoy leisure time with family and friends.

What is Barbara Walters’ legacy?

As a trailblazing journalist and feminist icon, Walters’ legacy is breaking barriers for women in media. She paved the way for generations of female broadcasters and her acclaimed career made her one of TV’s most admired personalities.

How did Barbara Walters impact women in journalism?

Walters was a true pioneer, known as the “first lady of television news.” By achieving so many firsts for women, she set a precedent that serious female journalists could succeed in prominent primetime TV roles.


For over 50 trailblazing years, Barbara Walters redefined broadcast journalism with her groundbreaking roles and unique interview style. As the “first lady of television news,” she opened doors for generations of women in the media and left an enduring legacy as one of TV’s most iconic personalities. Walters will forever be remembered for her unparalleled success shattering glass ceilings and transforming attitudes about women in broadcasting.

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